Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 87

An interesting point about this story is that it does not appear in any form in the North German cycle of Romance. Indeed, the poet who included in his epic the fiery dragon story, which links the hero Beowulf with Sigurd and Siegfried, appears to be doubtful about the mother monster's greatness, as if dealing with unfamiliar material, for he says: "The terror (caused by Grendel's mother) was less by just so much as woman's strength, woman's war terror, is (measured) by fighting men".[177] Yet, in the narrative which follows the Amazon is proved to be the stronger monster of the two. Traces of the mother monster survive in English folklore, especially in the traditions about the mythical "Long Meg of Westminster", referred to by Ben Jonson in his masque of the "Fortunate Isles":

Westminster Meg,
With her long leg,
As long as a crane;
And feet like a plane,
With a pair of heels
As broad as two wheels.

Meg has various graves. One is supposed to be marked by a huge stone in the south side of the cloisters of Westminster Abbey; it probably marks the trench in which some plague victims--regarded, perhaps, as victims of Meg--were interred. Meg was also reputed to have been petrified, like certain Greek and Irish giants and giantesses. At Little Salkeld, near Penrith, a stone circle is referred to as "Long Meg and her Daughters". Like "Long Tom", the famous giant, "Mons Meg" gave her name to big guns in early times, all hags and giants having been famous in floating folk tales as throwers of granite boulders, balls of hard clay, quoits, and other gigantic missiles.

The stories about Grendel's mother and Long Meg are similar to those still repeated in the Scottish Highlands. These contrast sharply with characteristic Germanic legends, in which the giant is greater than the giantess, and the dragon is a male, like Fafner, who is slain by Sigurd, and Regin whom Siegfried overcomes. It is probable, therefore, that the British stories of female monsters who were more powerful than their husbands and sons, are of Neolithic and Iberian origin--immemorial relics of the intellectual life of the western branch of the Mediterranean race.

In Egypt the dragon survives in the highly developed mythology of the sun cult of Heliopolis, and, as sun worship is believed to have been imported, and the sun deity is a male, it is not surprising to find that the night demon, Apep, was a personification of Set. This god, who is identical with Sutekh, a Syrian and Asia Minor deity, was apparently worshipped by a tribe which was overcome in the course of early tribal struggles in pre-dynastic times. Being an old and discredited god, he became by a familiar process the demon of the conquerors. In the eighteenth dynasty, however, his ancient glory was revived, for the Sutekh of Rameses II figures as the "dragon slayer".[178] It is in accordance with Mediterranean modes of thought, however, to find that in Egypt there is a great celestial battle heroine. This is the goddess Hathor-Sekhet, the "Eye of Ra".[179] Similarly in India, the post-Vedic goddess Kali is a destroyer, while as Durga she is a guardian of heroes.[180] Kali, Durga, and Hathor-Sekhet link with the classical goddesses of war, and also with the Babylonian Ishtar, who, as has been shown, retained the outstanding characteristics of Tiamat, the fierce old "Great Mother" of primitive Sumerian folk religion.